From Convent to Pentecost

Chapter 3

The White Veil

In Maskell’s Monumenta Ritualia is printed a form for the consecration of Nuns:

On the day of profession, the novices, clad in white, each bearing on the right arm the habit that the religion and profession requireth, with the veil, ring, and scroll of her profession attached upon said habit, and in her left hand bearing a taper without light, go in procession from the place where they were arrayed towards the western door of the choir, with looks bent on the ground, singing the response, Audivi vocem. Passing through the choir and going up to the altar, they lay their veils, rings and scrolls on the right end of it Then they take the oath of Chastity, and after receiving the habit from the Bishop return whence they came.

After the Credo, the Virgins return to the western door of the choir bearing tapers in their right hand. The rite proceeds: after the litanies each makes her profession before the Bishop and Abbess and signs her scroll of profession with the cross.

After the Psalm, Domine quis habitabit, during which the virgins prostrate themselves, they rise and go with the Bishop to the right hand of the altar, and taking their veils therefrom, hold them in their hands with their faces turned toward the Bishop. He standing in his place blesses the virgins’ hands with orisons.

The second prayer is: ‘O God, creator of all things visible and invisible, be merciful with us, and vouchsafe to bless and sanctify with the streams of Thy grace these veils which are the type of holiness, and the sign of humility. Thy servants deserve through Thy gift, to take and hallow them in heart and body.’

Every virgin, before the Bishop puts the veil upon her head, kisses his hand.

Being veiled, she sings, ‘The Lord hath clothed me with a garment woven of gold, and with immense jewels hath he adorned me.’

The ritual of the ring succeeds, followed by the long Benediction, during which the virgins lie prostrate. Before, their veils over their eyes. After the Communion, each gives up her taper to the Bishop, after kissing his hand, and he gives to them all his benediction.

Then the Abbess pulls their veils down beneath their chins, and so they remain for three days. On the third day, after they have communicated, the Abbess lifts up their veils, and from that time on, they go and come as other Nuns in a convent.”

This above ancient form of taking the veil in a convent has been very slightly changed in our day.

At the age of sixteen, I took the white veil. I became the Bride of Jesus Christ, at least so I thought. My father gave me fifteen hundred dollars for my dowry, and would have attended the ceremony had my mother not been ill.

Dressed in a beautiful white wedding gown, I walked down the chapel aisle of the Monastery. Following me were six little sisters who were my attendants (bridesmaids). At the altar I stood by my silent partner, Jesus Christ, the One I was espoused to. Father N. — Bishop of that Diocese — performed the wedding ceremony and sealed my vows by placing a tiny gold wedding band on the finger of my right hand.

I would never marry in the outside world. I forfeited my right to wifehood and motherhood.

As far as I was then concerned, I would never know the love or strength or courage of a husband. My arms would never hold a tiny one, God’s bundle of sunshine. This I had surrendered, forfeited forever, to be a slave for Christ and the Church.